I like to go window-shopping just as much as the next person; my money burns holes into anything with pockets. I also admit to being one of the first in line for new advancements in technology and just about anything “bigger and better.” Just ask me about my interest in interior decorating and real estate, my pet obsession with Apple computers, or how I melt at the brilliance of a witty ad campaign. I smile just thinking of how great I am for realizing the benefits of the mass media and the newest technology. If your ear is tuned to what I just said, you’d recognize the distinct presence of my ego–how great I am. My focus is not on the benefits of these technologies for anyone else, nor on those who cannot afford such a lavish lifestyle. No, my focus is on me and my personal growth with the money God has given me.
What if I told you that many of the 850-900 megachurches in the U.S. are doing the exact same thing? Those that do believe that bigger is in fact better, and that being the first ones in line for new advancements in technology and worship will always mean they are doing the best possible things with the money God gave them.
Let me cut to the quick: the institution of the megachurch has strayed from the original plan set out by Messiah and the apostles.
The term megachurch, as defined by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, “generally refers to any congregation with a minimum sustained average weekly attendance of 2000 persons or more in its worship services.”
One example of a megachurch from my past is Resurrection Life Church of Grandville, MI. They have a regular attendance of over 7000. Res Life was a short-term haven for me one summer during college. I attended the young adult group on Thursday nights every week, needing friends and people to care for me one-on-one…. Four whole weeks slipped by before I could get beyond a cursory “hi” with anyone. While my heart was injured inside and as I longed for community, I got a good show and a played a few rounds of pool.
Is that church doing something right? Yes. Res Life creates a safe, fun place for college students to relax, play games, drink coffee, and praise the Lord together. But they are doing something wrong? Perhaps. Because that’s all they do. Why did I leave the church after only one summer? Because it was just too big, too flashy, and too shallow. I could not connect with anyone at the Sunday services. The sanctuary looked more like a concert hall or television studio than a church and there was no welcome center that I could find, just a bookstore in the foyer.
Another example of the megachurch mentality is Roswell Street Baptist Church of Atlanta. The church publishes a pamphlet that declares church growth to be a Biblical injunction and “the American way.”
Big is Beautiful…. Any church in a large, growing community that is practicing the ‘Great Commission’ cannot keep from growing. To criticize a church for being big is to imply disbelief in Christ’s commission…. A church gets big because its spirit is big…. Nobody ever started a business without hoping that someday, if he or she worked hard enough, it would be a big success. That is the American dream, isn’t it?
How can building concert venues, health clubs, and adding coffee shops to sanctuaries so big that they resemble stadiums truly be the best possible uses for the church’s money? That’s just it. They’re not.
What was the Church like when it first started? Acts 2:40-47 states that Paul preached about Jesus Christ and:
…About three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… and the apostles did many wonders and miraculous signs. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need… They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God… And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Earth to megachurches: This was not the “American Dream.” The Church was certainly “mega,” having over three thousand people, and yet what did they do? They sold their possessions and goods and gave to all who had need. They did not (in their first century Jewish context) set up a health center at which widows, the poor in spirit, and the hungry could come exercise. The church did not consist of an enormous building with neon-lit baptism pools and television cameras. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and did miraculous signs and wonders by the power of God, not by the power of technology, Starbucks cappuccinos, or catchy theme t-shirts. I do sometimes wonder what those shirts would have said, but let’s leave that for another time.
Our culture is worlds apart from that of the first century, but the spirit of the Church as it was intended has changed. Yeshua said to Peter, the Rock of the Church, “Feed my sheep” in John 21. He did not say “Make me as attractive, socially acceptable, and up-to-date as possible.” Charles Roesel, pastor of First Baptist Church in Leesburg Florida punctuates this by saying, “As long as a church ministers to hurting people, it will never lack an audience… [Because it will be] a godly, loving, caring church that cares about people more than programs, that cares about people more than buildings, that cares about people as Christ cares for people.”
Bigger isn’t better when it means forgetting where you came from and what you were created to do. And the way things are headed, we’ve got bigger, but we have certainly not gotten better.
PS: I can express three sides to this argument, so this certainly does not cover the wide range of opinion and observation I have on the topic. All of this was brought to mind after reading this post. Feel free to respond to it and not just my ramblings above.
The subject of megachurches comes up often in discussion and I’m hoping to touch on a few of the surrounding issues if you’ll care to join me. They are an easy target for outside critique; I hasten to mention that while megachurches better reflect the turnings of our society better than small churches (and so draw attention to themselves by nature), there are bigger fish to fry and many more pressing issues on the Christian table than just this. So we just bite off one morsel at a time and pass the napkins. Want to come along?